Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Cairngorms’

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Ben Vrackie as seen from Clunie Wood

Fungi Friday 17th April 2020 via September 2018

For another week the Covid-19 pandemic is keeping me away from the woods and therefore the shrooms. To be honest though, my town is so deserted at the moment that I am kind of hoping some shrooms start popping up soon in the paving. Especially considering there is rain coming today.

I had been intending to post about some fantastic fungal hiking experiences (sounds weird) from a 2018 visit to Scotland but work and life stopped me. I have three hikes to share with you which should get you through the next three weeks of lockdown. I do hope anyone reading this is doing well and that you’re following the guidance.

These posts remind me of my uncle Joe Reilly who passed away in November. Joe was a Glaswegian by birth who, along with my aunt Marg, introduced me to some of the most beautiful places the UK has to offer in Perthshire, among so many other gifts. I would visit Marg and Joe in Perthshire as often as I could, often in autumn when going to meet my hiking companion Eddie (seen here) for a jaunt in the Cairngorms. Joe fell for fungi like I did in recent years and I will always miss his WhatsApp messages with mushrooms he had found on Perthshire walks. We miss his thirst for life terribly but carry it on just as he did.

This week I’m reminiscing about a great walk in the wooded hills of Pitlochry.

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The walk was on a Friday afternoon from the door of our guesthouse in Pitlochry but can also be done from Pitlochry railway station. It’s a stunning place, close to the southern border of the Cairngorms National Park. My friend Eddie lives in Glasgow and his journey was a wee bit quicker than mine from Sussex. Above you can see Eddie not at all incongruous in the landscape All these pics are taken with the amazing Canon Powershot G7X MII in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

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Scotland has deliciously wet and humid woodlands which in some parts constitute what is affectionately known as ‘Celtic Rainforest’. This is my habitat, the milder temperatures and shadier conditions far better suit my Celtic biology (which is not actually something that exists in Science).

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These birch trees were host to large hoof fungus brackets and many foliose lichens. These are commonly found on the acidic soils of heather moorland that covers so much of the Scottish Highlands.

These dead standing trees are a vital source of biodiversity in woodlands. They are the thing we have lost but are slowly, very slowly, returning to the landscape thanks to sensitive management.

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In Clunie Wood I found my first ever jelly babies. These are a bizarre species that do look like the sweets. They were growing in large numbers under shade in a wet area alongside the path.

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At the edge of a plantation we found a huge fly agaric.

Here is Eddie getting a pic which gives a sense of scale. September seems a good month for fly agaric in the Highlands of Scotland.

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The conditions were perfect for fungi and these beautiful bonnet mushrooms were alongside lichens on a tree stump.

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This quite hilarious clump of mushrooms (they were growing from one small stump… had to be there) are probably a type of honey fungus described in Latin as Oystoyae.

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This cheeky slime mould was another sign of the exceptional conditions with the mixture of broadleaf woodland and conifer plantation providing lots of moisture.

I always think orange peel fungus is some kind of plastic pollution. Having worked in urban nature conservation it reminds me of litter picks pulling old bits of traffic cone out of the soil!

At the edge of the woodland the beautiful heather moorland appears and views expand into the Grampian Mountains of the Cairngorms National Park.

Thanks for reading and keep dreaming!

More mushrooms

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A layer of snow

Carrbridge, The Cairngorms, Scotland, October 2013

Arriving in the fields, the lichen frosted pinewood in our wake, I admire an old alder tree coppiced and growing by a brook. The landscape unfolds, the Cairngorms rising in the east, fringed in all corners by the yellow of birch leaves. We look to the hill where we had observed this scene only two hours ago, from a spot where a sheep skull hung from a piece of standing wood. We follow the River Dulnain as it runs east, the sound of traffic returning along the A-road. A buzzard floats over a line of trees, calling out, the sound severing the reminder of motor vehicles. We egg it on – ‘go on, my son!’ – and approaching a small farmstead we find a rabbit freshly mutilated, its neck bone protruding, eyes gone. Was this the buzzard’s work, or perhaps a mustelid. We cross a tributary of the Dulnain and a goosander bursts from underneath the footbridge. This saw-billed creature is one I had never seen before now. It steers itself upstream into the dusky light reflected by the water. We continue past a dilapidated cottage and fiery beech tree, watching as sheep leap and bounce away from a row of cabbages they had been eating in a neighbouring field. We meet the main road and wait patiently for our chance. Having crossed, we train our binoculars on the summit of Cairn Gorm, the restaurant and funicular railway car scratched into its slopes. All is dressed in a layer of snow.

© Daniel James Greenwood 2014
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Glen Einach

Glen Einach, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, October 2013

Lying on the grass where the road forks up and into the wind I watch the redwing and fieldfare slip across the grey sky. Down below us the River Am Beanaidh flows with great force. My friend has finished in his attempts to separate map from wind and joins me on the gravelly soil, rolling himself a cigarette. A few minutes ago we watched redwing appearing from the heather like particles drawn, magnetised to the scots pine. Some remained in the heather for a time, before using the air and their wings to join with the trees. My smug little siesta is embellished further by a reward received a few minutes earlier: the sight of a crested tit mixing with its coal tit cousins and picking at the sticks and lichens. I have felt the tiredness and tenseness that comes from a lack of proper rest since summer’s end but this landscape reinvigorates me like no other that I have set foot upon. Listening to the quickening wind dashing through the medium of pine needles, my friend calls an end to our pause.

We head up over the top path, the wind bursting through. It’s much cooler, a hint of ice. I automatically reach into my coat pockets seeking woollen gloves. It’s reported to feel like -11 on the peaks today and here blows the clue as we climb to 450m. Trudging along, a shape appears in the distance, passing over the pinewoods, across the river and the slopes of Cairn Eilrig:

‘Big, big bird,’ I shout, into the strength of the wind. My friend stops.

It passes across our view, a cloak caught by a gale. The thought process begins: buzzard… raven… its dark, primary wing feathers like digits. Its wings catch a slither of sun, a golden sheen. It’s the eagle. It disappears behind the trees, appearing again, coasting and now lost to the pines. My friend and I have both leapt up onto a lichen and heather-covered bank of soil. We jump back down, carried back by the wind by an inch or two. We hit a gloved high five, hard and true.

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Loch Garten

– Loch Garten, Scotland, November 2012

Bar a few cars passing us on the approach road there is no one here. And but for the track itself, the birch, heather and lichen covered Scot’s pine exude a sense of ancient wilderness. There are no human trails through the heather and soggy mounds of moss, only a few signs of other mammals escaping into the wilder regions. Some odourless spraint we discover at our feet intrigues us: pine marten, otter? I don’t know. A bit further back, we watched a red squirrel hug the trunk of a pine, climbing a branch higher as we took steps closer. The images we’re fed in England of confiding creatures doesn’t match the shy nature of these Scottish animals.

The sound of chainsaws is moaning, unending. It may be work that will help these famously mistreated woodlands, cleared with such fervour by the English, but the noise is irritating. We turn into Loch Garten and our minds to the capercaillie, a member of the grouse family which is renowned for the defence of its territory to all comers. Our host in Aviemore showed us a photograph in the guesthouse lobby of a celebrity capercaillie that entertained the masses in the 1990s. Anyone who passed the field bordering the bird’s pinewood territory would be met with a fanfare of its black tail feathers, not unlike a peacock. The framed photograph in the lobby showed that the bird lacked a tail feather. This led to uproar locally – someone’s dog had attached the bird and it had lost its feather. That, however, proved to be untrue. A local farmer had put out feed for his horse in the field next to the capercaillie’s dwelling, and the bird had begun to join the horse for dinner. Eventually, the horse grew tired of the charismatic grouse eating its food and bit it on the arse. Mystery solved. There is no chance of us witnessing such scenes today at Loch Garten.

But what’s to be enjoyed in the absence of the Cairngorms’ other celebrity birds, the ospreys that travel here from Africa to breed? The Loch itself. The roots of mature pines spread freely from the soil as the opening of the Loch appears before us: the gentle movement of its surface, the image of Craiggowrie in the distance, the silence overcomes us. How peculiar that silence can feel louder than chainsaws. Nan Shepherd wrote about it up in the mountains but here it is lapping on the water at just a few hundred feet. The movement of the water’s edge does not end there, it moves across the sandy soil, into the pine forest, rippling through me. From the bordering pine forest comes the cheerful trill of a crested tit, it sounds like the only thing on earth. The pines on the waterfront have beard lichens snagged in in their branches, so much like the facial hair of miniature woodland elders, dark green and bright blue. The gnarled dead wood of the pine holds their ghastly expressions. We turn on our heels and head for the depths of Abernethy Forest.

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